photography by Scott Hirko
[This 2010 Kymco Xciting 500Ri vs. 2010 Yamaha Tmax road test was originally published in the December 2009 issue of Rider magazine]
The first time I took one of these scooters out with my riding buddies they were holding back, easing off, coddling me like a novice rider…till I grabbed a handful of throttle and blew by them! Today’s mega scooters belie the idea that something with smaller wheels and full plastic bodywork will be cute, slow, dull and squired about by an inexperienced rider.
These two plastic, fantastic scooters, the Kymco Xciting 500Ri and the Yamaha TMax, displace 499cc and will both show your surprised behind the high side of 90 mph! It’s no longer appropriate to think of scooters as small, basic and underpowered—with such innovations as fuel injection and anti-lock brakes, these mega scooters could be thought of as motorcycles with automatic clutches and constantly variable transmissions (CVT) that feature stepless, automatic shifting and similar performance levels to a motorcycle of the same displacement.
As for these two scooters specifically, the differences between them are significant. One has a twin-cylinder engine while the other’s a single, one is sharp and focused while the other’s an all-rounder, and one’s a luxury barge while the other’s a sports car…and one is priced nearly $1,700 less. Of course, price is a major factor for scooter buyers.
The Kymco Xciting 500Ri is powered by a liquid-cooled, single-cylinder, double-overhead-cam motor with a bore and stroke of 92.0 x 75.0mm, and a compression ratio of 10.5:1. Power reaches the ground through a series of belts and gear final drive. Each machine has electric starting, but the sidestand must be up and the rider must hold either brake lever while pressing the starter button; with an automatic clutch, revving the engine could cause the bike to surge forward unexpectedly. Thanks to electronic fuel injection, each starts easily without the need for a choke or fast-idle control
The Kymco’s ignition switch has so many positions it’s confusing; twisting the key can also lock the steering, unlock the seat or cause the fuel cap to flip open. While sitting idling you can feel the throb of the Kymco’s big single, and when you throttle up there’s a moment’s hesitation while this bad boy builds revs and torque to get into its happy place. There’s that momentary instability that soon passes as its 15-inch front and 14-inch rear wheel begin spinning fast enough to generate some gyroscopic action.
Hop aboard the Yamaha Tmax and notice that it feels lighter, more sprightly and compact than the Kymco Xciting 500Ri, possibly because it has a diecast aluminum frame rather than the Kymco’s steel unit. Its liquid-cooled motor also displaces 499cc, but it’s a parallel twin with DOHC and four valves per cylinder. Its bore and stroke are 66.0 x 73.0mm, compression ratio is 11.0:1 and its CVT operates through a multiplate centrifugal clutch, rubber V-belt and a coaxial driveshaft that pivots with the swingarm. Power reaches the 15-inch rear wheel (the front is also a 15-inch) through an enclosed chain final drive and a V-belt.
The Yamaha’s clutch hooks up immediately and revs more freely right off idle without the Kymco’s lag time. Thanks in part to its two cylinders and reciprocating balancer, the Yamaha is also notably smoother at idle, though at highway speeds each is very smooth. We ran some impromptu drag races, and in each case the Yamaha Tmax would hook up, step out immediately and pull away from the initially laboring Kymco. Roll-ons at 50 mph also had the Yamaha leaping ahead.
But wait, scooters are more about practical transportation than sporting about, and in the comfort department the Kymco excels with its wider, flatter seat that offers better padding, and its suspension is likewise softer. This is not to say that the Yamaha’s isn’t comfortable, but its seat is more firm and slightly crowned, so it just does not fit the usual shape of the gluteus. Its ride could also stand a little less compression damping, which would make it more compliant. Wind protection is similar, with a slight nod going to the Yamaha for its higher windscreen and more natural leg position, but we found the Kymco slightly more comfortable overall.
Out in normal riding the Yamaha Tmax offers precise and easy handling, it’s sharply sprung and provides crisp power. The Kymco Xciting 500Ri, on the other hand, is laid back with a more luxury ride and less responsive power. Compared with a motorcycle, the ride is just slightly more choppy as the scooter’s smaller wheels cannot roll over bumps quite as easily as larger ones.
Both hand levers on these scooters control the brakes, the right side for the front brake as on a motorcycle, but the left links both brakes and is quite powerful. Pull both levers simultaneously and stopping power is impressive as the Tmax features dual front disc brakes with four-piston calipers, and its rear brake has a single-piston caliper.
The Kymco’s twin front petal-style disc rotors are equipped with two-piston calipers and its rear is a single-piston, but our test bike was equipped with Kymco’s anti-lock brakes as a $500 option. Apply the brakes hard on a chancy surface, and you can feel the squirmy feedback in the levers as the brakes quickly grab and release. The action is very quick and precise, and feels surprisingly like a state-of-the-art system.
People tend to buy scooters for their aura of simplicity and economy, but forget the notion of 100 mpg. That may well be possible on little 100-125cc machines, but we got right around 50 mpg on these 500s in generally hard use. Still, with the Xciting’s 3.38-gallon capacity and the Tmax’s 4.0-gallon tank, a usable range of around 170-200 miles is possible.
With their automatic clutches these scoots cannot be parked in gear, so each has a parking brake. The Xciting’s is operated by a handle that must be slid upward, but the release button tends to stick and releasing it can be balky. The Tmax’s parking brake is a lever that pivots into place and is much easier to use.
Scooters are all about running errands in town, and under the Tmax’s seat is a large storage area that will accept a full-face helmet while you’re in the store, and a couple gallons of milk on the way home. Double glove boxes in the fairing will hold gloves…but not much else. The Kymco’s storage area is longer and flatter rather than deep, and will not hold a full-face helmet, but those couple jugs of milk will fit. Curiously, there’s a little cell phone holder under the seat with a 12-volt adapter that will allow it to be charged while you ride. Up in the fairing is a small, locking compartment that may hold a pair of light gloves.
For our motorcycle-riding readers, the primary differences between these scooters and motorcycles are the automatic clutch and auto shifting, and the fact that the lever we have all come to know, love and use to control the clutch is instead a brake lever. More than once during this test I found myself pulling the left brake lever expecting a clutch, and dancing around looking for the foot brake pedal that didn’t exist. Other than that, the main capability I missed was, on a long downhill, being able to downshift and precisely control my speed with the throttle by being in the proper gear. Finally, keep in mind that a scooter’s automatic clutch will disengage as it slows to a stop, so if you’re rolling downhill you’ll need to be ready with the brakes.
For those of us who spent the day on these scooters, the choice was unanimous in favor of the Yamaha Tmax for its power, smoothness, taut suspension and overall sprightly feel. It also holds a bit more luggage. Our only complaints were its stiff seat and that it’s going to set you back $8,490. However, a rider more interested in luxury and comfort than performance would likely favor the Kymco Xciting 500Ri, especially when you consider its $6,799 price tag with the impressive anti-lock brakes; delete $500 if you don’t want them. It basically comes down to the performance differences between a luxury car and a sports car…and the price.
2010 Yamaha Tmax
Base Price: $8,490
Engine Type: Liquid-cooled parallel twin
Bore x Stroke: 66.0 x 73.0mm
Transmission: CVT double-cog V-belt automatic
Final Drive: V-belt
Wheelbase: 62.2 in.
Seat Height: 31.5 in.
Wet Weight: 493 lbs.
Fuel Capacity: 4.0 gals.
Average mpg: 48.0
2010 Kymco Xciting 500Ri
Base Price: $6,299
Price as Tested: $6,799 ABS model
Engine Type: Liquid-cooled single
Bore x Stroke: 92.0 x 75.0mm
Transmission: CVT automatic
Final Drive: Gear
Wheelbase: 61.8 in.
Seat Height: 30.3 in.
Wet Weight: 534 lbs.
Fuel Capacity: 3.4 gals.
Average mpg: 48.1